Health officials urge flu shots, especially for seniors

Health authorities in Pierce and King counties are trying to help Pierce County residents – especially elderly ones – avoid the deadly fate that befell 133 people during the 2016-17 flu season.

Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department reported 49 flu-related deaths during the peak last influenza period of October 2016 to April this year. It was the deadliest flu season of the previous three flu seasons combined in Pierce County, and it was particularly bad for older adults and put added pressure on hospital emergency rooms for treatment.

In King County, the 2016-17 flu season was the worst in five years. It resulted in 83 deaths, 93 percent of them among people over the age of 65.

With a new flu season underway and predictions of wide potential for illness, “everyone should get a flu shot. But it’s especially important for the elderly, pregnant women, and those with other health conditions to protect themselves against the flu,” said Nigel Turner, director of communicable disease control for the Health Department. “It’s good community stewardship. People who get vaccinated also help protect those around them.”

The most common strain of flu last season, known as H3N2, tends to affect the elderly more than younger people. Based on flu activity in the southern hemisphere, people should expect this flu season to be similar to last season, Turner reported.

Fever, coughs, sore throats and body aches can last for days for flu sufferers. And it can lead to death.

A flu shot is an important first step in avoiding the illness and in reducing the severity of it, Turner noted.

“When more people take the simple proactive step of getting a flu shot, it can keep them out of urgent care and the emergency room,” he said.



A flu shot is an important first step in avoiding the illness and in reducing the severity of it.



How does the flu spread?

Coughing and sneezing can infect a person directly. So can contact with contaminated surfaces or objects. So:

  • Wash your hands often with soap or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze.
  • Stay home if you’re sick.


Why should I get a flu shot?

The Health Department recommends the flu vaccine for people six months and older. When more people in Pierce County get vaccinated, less flu spreads, officials say. Although the flu is circulating now, it’s not too late to get vaccinated.


Can I still get sick after getting a flu shot?

No vaccine is 100 percent effective, but when more people are vaccinated, less illness circulates in the community. Those who are immune-compromised or can’t get vaccines because of medical reasons have better protection when people around them are vaccinated.


Where can I get a flu shot?

At many local pharmacies. Also, check with your healthcare provider and at


What are the side-effects of a flu shot?

Most people get a flu shot with no problem. But mild and short-lived side-effects can include soreness, redness, tenderness, or swelling at the spot of injection. The flu vaccine can’t give you the flu.


What should I do if I have flu symptoms?

For people who are more at risk of severe complications (seniors, children under 5 years old, pregnant women, and anyone with diabetes, asthma or other chronic conditions), see your healthcare provider right away. Antiviral medications taken within a day or two after the flu symptoms start might help people at higher risk avoid pneumonia, hospitalization and death.

Everyone else can should get plenty of rest and drink lots of fluids.


What are the symptoms?

  • Fever higher than 100.4 degrees for more than four days.
  • Coughing up mucus tinged with blood.
  • Rattling chest sounds when taking a deep breath, fainting spells, dizziness and severe dry mouth.
  • Urinating less (or if babies have less than three wet diapers per 24 hours).


When should I call 9-1-1 or be seen at an emergency room?

If you are experiencing any of the following:

  • Fast breathing or trouble breathing.
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen.
  • Bluish or gray skin color.
  • Severe or persistent vomiting.
  • Not waking up or not interacting.
  • Sudden dizziness.
  • Unable to talk in full sentences.
  • Confusion.
  • Children who are so irritable that they don’t want to be held.